What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

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Football, English-style

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 3, 2014

The second “Jumble” word stymied me today, so I left it and worked on the others: round, smooch and bother. Then I came back to it … still no luck.

I tried bugry, gubry, gubyr, rubyg, gybru, rybug and guyrb. All were footless and fruitless attempts, but suddenly the right answer floated up in my mind, much like words do in a Magic 8 ball: rugby.

It turns out that the game of rugby, which is a type of football, comes from the public school by the same name. That’s where the earliest version of the game was first played, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The school was in the city of Rugby in Warwickshire in central England, and the word was first used in 1864, the dictionary also notes.

The field at Rugby School
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia



‘As strong as oak’

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, January 31, 2014

It’s mid-afternoon. The snow is still falling, the office is toasty warm, a Broncos-inspired buffet is just steps away and plenty of coffee awaits down the hall. I’d really like a nap.

This time of year I don’t feel particularly robust, but I’m certainly glad others do. This morning, for example, I was grateful that Gary Terell, who is in charge of maintenance here at The Daily Sentinel, was vigorously shoveling off the north lot of the building. I had no trouble parking, thanks to his robust labors.

I imagine that snowplow operators are out in force, clearing off streets and highways. This latest snowfall is sure to bring out robust skiers and boarders, who likely will hit the slopes en masse Saturday. On Sunday they may have to decide between being robust recreationalists or watching robust athletes playing in front of robust fans at the Super Bowl.

The word “robust” came into English in the 1540s from Middle French, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The Middle French word, the dictionary adds, derived “directly from Latin robustus ‘strong and hardy,’ literally ‘as strong as oak.’”

And not just any oak. The dictionary notes that the word goes farther back in Latin to mean “’a special kind of oak,’ named for its reddish heartwood, from Latin ruber ‘red.’”

I’ll have to remember all that information the next time I’m out walking and passing by the Bur Oak in my neighborhood park. Perhaps seeing the tree will help me break out of my mid-winter lethargy.

I’ll also try to keep in mind this observation by Bill Bryson in his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything: “You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.“

Photo special to the Sentinel


A subtle allusion?

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

René Descartes was a 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Though born in France, Descartes spent much of his life in the Dutch Republic and died of pneumonia in Sweden at age 54. He is often called the father of modern philosophy.

As noted in a previous blog entry, his famous words, “I think, therefore I am,” were originally stated in his native language: Je pense, donc je suis. They appeared in his Discourse on the Method (1637), according to Wikipedia.

In today’s “Frank & Ernest,” cartoonist Tom Thaves seems to allude to the dream argument, which for centuries has intrigued philosophers around the world, including Descarte. He explored the dream argument in his Meditations, published in 1641.

To learn about the dream argument and its philosophical questions about what is real and what is illusory, head to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_argument. For even more about Descartes’ life and contributions to math and philosophy, check out the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte.

René Descartes
Portrait after Frans Hals, 1648
Photo of portrait courtesy of Wikipedia


The highway … auf Deutsch

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, January 27, 2014

The German word Autobahn, which means highway, crops up in today's crossword puzzle answers. It illustrates that other languages besides English create portmanteau words.

Autobahn is made up of two words: auto, meaning motorcar or automobile, and bahn, a path or road.

Autobahn is capitalized even within a sentence, because Germans capitalize all nouns, not just proper nouns.

Two Autobahns crossing near Frankfurt, Germany
Photo by Vladislav Bezrukov courtesy of Wikipedia
Originally posted on Flickr





Seizing a teachable moment

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“Motivation” is a form of “motive,” which means “some inner drive, impulse, intention, etc. that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way,” according to Webster’s. The word comes from the Latin movere, “to move.”

My motivation for selecting this cartoon was to seize a teachable moment: The object in the sentence on the board is “ball.”

More precisely, it is called a direct object. It directly receives the action of —yes — an action verb. In this case, the action verb is “chased.”

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